Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Rambling Post on Calderón, Polls, and Confusion

Greg Weeks has had an interesting couple of posts chewing on whether Calderón's messaging or his policies are to blame for perceptions of his failure on security. They are a bit hard to summarize, so here they are in their entirety:

From the NYT: when things go bad, just claim that your message is not being sent correctly. Felipe Calderón perhaps learned that from George W. Bush and now Barack Obama as well. It's not that people don't like your policies, it's that they don't understand them well enough:

The administration of President Felipe Calderón has not shown signs of shifting tactics. Rather, his aides believe the problem is that his message — that the violence is a sign that progress is being made — has not been delivered well. There has been a shake-up in his communication staff to improve it.
Shoot your messenger, and all will be well.
In my post from Friday, Pablo from The Cross Culturalist pointed to this poll in Milenio to counter the argument that Felipe Calderón's anti-drug policies are unpopular. Here is the relevant question:

Aprueba o desaprueba la lucha contra el narcotráfico que se está dando ahora en el país?

My translation: Do you approve or disapprove of the fight against narcotrafficking that the country is currently undergoing?

With that question, 69.3 percent approve and 24.7 disapprove. So if 69.3 percent approve, why is the Calderón administration so concerned that no one approves? At least for this particular poll, I would argue that the question is too vague to tell us much. That an overwhelming percentage believe "the fight" is a good thing is not necessarily an indicator that "the specific measures of the Calderón administration" are equally popular.

Otherwise we have a situation where a president grossly underestimates the popularity of one of his major policies. That, as you might guess, is not very common.
That's definitely a vague question, but more specific questions regarding the use of the army against drug traffickers typically yield similar levels of support, so the confusion isn't all a function of the language. Virtually every security poll you see in Mexico contains at least one genuine head-scratcher.

Anyway, I take four basic points out of all this: one, Mexicans support an aggressive crime policy, even if they don't love Calderón's; two, while Calderón has been getting heat for insecurity, people blame the criminals first and foremost; three, while people don't think Calderón's policy is working, they don't see any alternative that will do a lot better; four, the worsening security situation in much of the nation is a significant political problem for Calderón, even if that hasn't translated into lower approval ratings (I'd guess that a lot of the people who say they support Calderón in the approval surveys would also be critical of him on security). Of course, those ideas don't fit particularly well together, and the end result of it is the jumble of conflicting opinions you see in polls.

I do think Calderón's team is right to recognize that their communication efforts have been a failure. They have never seemed to have a consistent PR strategy, operating with priorities that change dramatically from week to week, with little regard for the victims nor reassurance for those who lived in unsafe towns, and with a constant drumbeat of unsupported assertions like, The violence means we're winning, and bellicose rhetoric, i.e. Not a single step back and the like. With some exceptions, the administration has largely let the media set the security agenda, a reflection of the absence of a guiding doctrine. With 30,000 dead, I'm not sure a better PR strategy would have made a huge difference in the nation's mood regarding security, which I take to be Greg's main point. Nor, for that matter, am I particularly convinced that this new communications effort will be markedly better (one worries that Calderón's team mentions convincing people that the violence being a sign that they are winning, something that has been said quite a lot over the past four years, and to little good effect). Furthermore, a more effective communications approach wouldn't have mattered much in terms of his approval rating, what with his super-resistant personal popularity. But the perceptions of failure are a political problem in that they have turned Calderón into a defensive target for his political adversaries, and his team is right to be addressing it.

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